By Dr. Cindy Guillaume and Dr. Casey Reason
The common core curriculum has been a long time coming. While much has been said about the challenges of its implementation, one thing is clear: the common core curriculum is a sure sign, as Thomas Friedman has reminded us, that the world is flatter and faster and those flattening elements are having an impact on the steps me must take to be competitive, which includes more thoughtfully examining what is happening in every classroom in the United States.
What makes the common core so unique is the fact that for the first time ever there is a national conversation about the specific learning outcomes in math and language arts. While we have had recommendations in the past from national organizations in math and language arts, we have never established an agreed upon set of specific learning outcomes in these subjects that all schools in the United States are asked to achieve (source). Other countries like China, Singapore, and Norway do have a published national curriculum, and those countries all rank higher in both math and language arts than the United States (OECD, 2014).
So why did it take so long? The answer is simple. Local control. One of the more formative aspects of K-12 public education in the United States is our adherence to the importance of local control (Edgar, 2008). Local communities are afforded the opportunity to establish schools that meet their standards and have choices and priorities matching local preferences. This has been a wonderful attribute that allows a local school to indeed create learning opportunities that prepare the student to be a meaningful contributor to the local community.
The downside of all this local control has been uneven expectations and, at times, exceedingly low standards (Duncan, 2012). Before the common core curriculum, it wasn’t uncommon to find high schools where graduation didn’t require more than two years of math. That math experience wouldn’t necessarily have even included Algebra.
These lower expectations may have been acceptable in local school districts and surrounding communities based on regional jobs and expectations for work standards in the near future. However, that was then. Today, the internationalization of almost everything we do has made the working environment excruciatingly competitive and is forcing schools throughout the United States to broaden their horizons and indeed think about their curriculum against a broader national and at times international standard as they prepare students for an economy that will be altogether different than the economy most of us grew up in. Local control was based on the assumption that the local community would inherit the benefits (Edgar, 2008). Today, there is a much greater level of mobility and competition from all corners of the world are emerging.
Indeed Thomas Friedman was right. The world is getting flatter, faster, and more deeply interconnected. And the common core curriculum, although imperfect, is helping all students get ready for it.
Duncan, A. (2013, June). Duncan Pushes Back on Attacks on Common Core Standards. Speech presented at the American Society of News Editors Annual Convention, Capital Hilton, Washington, D.C.
Edgar, W.G. (2008). 21st Century Challenges to Local Control. Presented to the Washington State School Directors Association.
OECD (2014), PISA 2012 Results: What Students Know and Can do – Student Performance in Mathematics, Reading and Science (Volume I, Revised edition, February 2014), PISA, OECD Publishing.